Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Albion Recorder, August 25, 1997, pg. 4
The recent article about the upcoming expiration of the lease of the Leisure Hour Club on South Clinton Street, just west of the downtown district, reminds us of the prominence of the “woman behind the building.” Mary (Peabody) Sheldon Ismon (1832-1905). Mary was a member of Albion’s “first family,” the Peabodys. Her parents, Paul Tenney and Eleanor (Thompson) Peabody wee the first white settlers here, and came with their children to “the Forks” from New York in March, 1833 when Mary was an infant.
Mary married prominent Albion banker James Wadsworth Sheldon (1830-1894) at the age of 24 in 1856. His bank was located at 304 S. Superior St., and later became known as the Albion State Bank which closed in 1931. Sheldon made a fortune here on mortgages and acquired considerable parcels of land, some of which remained in the family even into the 1950s. For more information about banker James, read my book “Albion’s Banks and Bankers” pp. 6-8.
Banker James erected a large building on the northwest corner of Superior and Erie Streets in 1872, which is the building that presently houses Park’s Drug Store. The Sheldons lived upstairs in an elegant apartment. The couple had one child, Madelon L. Sheldon (1859-1921), whose son James Sheldon “Don” Riley (1879-1968) donated $50,000 towards the erection of a new Albion hospital in 1923. It was named the James W. Sheldon Memorial Hospital. Don’s two children, Sheldon Riley (b. 1915) and Barbara (Riley) DeGroot (b. 1918) live in the Santa Barbara, California area today, and there are numerous descendants.
Mary (Peabody) Sheldon was quite a beautiful woman, according to one person who knew her. This particular person wrote, “Mary really bowled me over when she went down the street with her beauty and glamour! She was a small woman, really petite, and beautiful. She was always dressed smartly, and when she came down the street with her two huge dogs, I think they were black and white, maybe Danes, it was quite a procession.” Needless to say, Mary was active in the women’s clubs and society events here in Albion.
Banker James died in 1894 and Mary married Henry Ismon (1830-1901) in November, 1879. Ismon had come to Albion from New York in 1843, and lived on the family farm west of Albion. Henry then moved to Paw Paw, Michigan where he lived for 30 years, and was involved with his brothers in the manufacturing and mercantile trade. He moved back to Albion in his retirement.
When the Mary Sheldon Ismon building was erected, it was deeded to the City of Albion by Mary Sheldon Ismon. A 99-year lease for the basement and first floor was given to the Leisure Hour Club, and the second and third floors to the E.L.T. Club. A stipulation in the original lease stated that when the clubs ceased to exist, the building was to revert to the city, with the condition that no portion of the building shall be used as a voting place should it be used for public purposes.
Upon the request of Mary, a large room on the second floor was used as a city library (rent free) until the Carnegie-funded Library building opened in 1919.
It is said that Mary Sheldon Ismon had the building on South Clinton Street erected not only for the women of Albion, but also so that her husband Henry and his chums could have a respectable place to play cards. One thing about the building that has intrigued me is the large south chimney which has a backwards “S” (for Sheldon” facing towards the west. Look at it sometime and you will see what I mean. The north chimney has a normal “S.” These were actually braces for the chimneys.
Perhaps it was Mary’s first husband, banker James W. Sheldon, who had the last word. The trio are all interred in the Sheldon Mausoleum at the entrance to Riverside Cemetery. One reference states, “It is said that late at night, voices can be heard emanating from the mausoleum. But it is reported to be just bank James trying to collect rent from Henry Ismon, widow Mary’s second husband, who is also interred within.”
This week we present a photograph of Mary (Peabody) Sheldon-Ismon. Maybe there could be some sort of ceremony recognizing the 100th anniversary of the Mary Sheldon-Ismon building when the time comes?
Mary (Peabody) Sheldon-Ismon
All text copyright, 2016 © all rights reserved Frank Passic